Monday, October 22, 2007

Confused

My friend Misha invited me to attend a guest lecture in her graduate level neuroscience class last week. The presentation was titled "Study of Deaf Ci Users by using PET." I really enjoyed the chance to make myself presentable (I ditched my mom outfit) and be in a totally different environment. It didn’t take long to figure out that I would walk away understanding about 3 of the concepts in the presentation, but that didn’t keep me from listening intently and taking some notes here and there. Looking at slides of the brain and hearing about changes in glucose metabolism in the left middle occipito-temporal junction is a little too "cerebral" for me at this point.

Here are the 3 things that stuck with me:

1. From a neuroscience perspective, Ci users are a great modality to study sensory deprivation AND recovery. (True, makes sense to me anyway)

2. After Ci surgery, there is major enhancement of nonverbal cognitive functions and working memory as well as an increase in visual spatial processing. (Um, WOW!)

3. In terms of cross modal plasticity, sign language can activate the auditory association cortex. (Okay, very cool, but brings up some serious questions)

I put Misha on task to talk to her professor about that last point. There was no need as she and I have the same question: does sign language help or hinder the development of spoken language in deaf children? Can that question even be addressed by current research?

This is a biggie for those of us who parent or work with Ci children. The dominant and prevailing theory is that of the Auditory Verbal method of speech therapy. This type of therapy is extremely successful with Ci kids and I love most of their methods and ideas. However, AV therapy strongly discourages the use of sign. They believe that using sign is counterproductive because the point is to put all the focus on audition and developing the auditory center of the brain. And while I haven’t read the research they cite (don’t need to really), Rich and I have decided that doesn’t make sense for Ethan or our family. So we practice many of the AV ideas in our therapy and in our home, but we also continue to use sign.

Proponents of using sign with deaf babies say they have their own research to cite, proving that signing actually helps with language development. I have not read their research either. Again, don’t have to. (But would like to someday)

I feel that I have to let go of everything I hear/read from the science, medical, and speech and language community, and just make the decision that I know in my gut is right for my son and his circumstances. That’s what parenting any kid, hearing or not, is all about.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bowl of rice pudding waiting…

16 comments:

Kyla said...

My experiences are limited to KayTar, but for her, she learned/kept ZERO words until she started signing. Once she learned to sign, her words finally had staying power. It was a huge asset for her, and I don't know that she would have made the verbal connections without that stepping stone.

Jeannette said...

I think a good place to start is some historical context. Why do the AVT people think that sign will inhibit speech? I'm setting myself up to get punched in the face by AVT peeps, but it really goes back to Alexander Graham Bell. The poles of deaf education were created in the early 19th century with Clerc/Gallaudet (who really started deaf ed in America) advocating sign language, bringing over an already amazingly successful manual language from France and having great success with it. And the other side being AGBell, who had an utter fascination with speech and the production of speech and wanted to use it to teach deaf people how to speak. Unfortunately, his approach was very offensive, because he viewed deafness as a pathology that should be contained as a disease would, hence the elimination of deaf people would then eliminate deafness. Yes, it was plain and simple hegemony. But that sets the stage for the violently opposed camps in deaf education. Now the AGBell foundation advocates listening and speaking as "successful" way to be deaf. It is more politically correct and eerily sugar-coated.

When we found out Ellis was deaf, we started with the assumption that sign language was good. It made sense. He couldn't hear, thus not a day of language was missed because we had sign. He has a CI now, for 3 months. So he has some auditory access, but 3 months isn't long enough to be listening and speaking like a hearing toddler. Again, not a day of language is missed because he has a manual language. He will always be deaf and having a manual language will always be a valuable resource for him no matter how much auditory access he has.

I've read a lot of stuff from the Laurent Clerc center at Gallaudet University. AVT stuff and Clerc stuff continually say things that are the opposite of each other, and they both have well-documented, scientific research to support their claims and debunk the others. So who do you believe? Well, it just shows how murky the world of scholarship is. And learning how to navigate it is half the battle. That's not necessarily the task for all of us, as you say so yourself. At the end of the day, I like to talk to d/Deaf people, because I think they will give me the best insight into the world as my son sees it.

Anyway, back to the Clerc stuff. Something that keeps coming up over and over again is how having language skills in one language enhances the acquisition of a second language. In this case, having ASL helps to acquire English. One article about CIs even states that kids who communicate well (manually) before their CIs do well once they get them. We are definitely seeing that this is the case with Ellis.

This is turning into a super long comment. :-) Sorry! So anyway, that's the random base of my thoughts. I still have so much research to do. I love research, so it's something I'll do. But signing hasn't failed us yet. :-) Hang in there!! You are giving Ethan a great language resource that he will always be grateful to have.

KC said...

First off, I was a neuroscience major, did I tell you that?

(what a major geek)

I don't know the research, but it would seem to be that sign language is a good thing- communicating, forming connections with symbols and signs. If it feels right to you means that it probably is. Kids are so plastic- their brains grow amazingly at this age, I think they can adapt to a whole lot.

Hetha said...

Kyla - That's actually really amazing to me, particularly with her hearing loss as such.

Jeannette - I'll have to email you, but I really appreciate your perspective, more than you could know.

KC - You ARE a geek! I love it! And even with your ability to speak to this from a medical perspective- you say if it feels right then it must be. The mother in you has taken the floor. Awesome.

flutter said...

I have a friend who had the Ci surgery done at age 22, it's been fascinating to watch his speech develop

slouching mom said...

I feel that I have to let go of everything I hear/read from the science, medical, and speech and language community, and just make the decision that I know in my gut is right for my son and his circumstances. That’s what parenting any kid, hearing or not, is all about.

Amen, sister!

Eileen said...

Heather,
You have read/listened and done so much research in this area, as you should have. But, I agree with you, you are at the point, where you have to trust your gut and do what you believe in your heart is in Ethan's best interest. You nailed it when you said,"just like any other parent." So true. I say trust your instincts and move forward. Look how far Ethan has come!! He will continue to amaze us all. This I know for sure.
XOXOXO

jen said...

I feel that I have to let go of everything I hear/read from the science, medical, and speech and language community, and just make the decision that I know in my gut is right for my son and his circumstances. That’s what parenting any kid, hearing or not, is all about.

AMEN.

and dammit, i know slouchy just left the same comment but i thought of it before i saw she'd done it and so here you go, again. because it's true.

Kellan said...

You are in my thoughts and prayers during this trying period of your life. It sounds to me like you are a wonderful mother and I believe you will make good choices for the beautiful boy (I love the picture - it's new right?). Take care.

Beck said...

I have limited experience with sign language, but some of my friends have taught their hearing babies sign because it was supposed to HELP language development. It sounds like there's a lot of mixed messages about what you should be doing, and I think you're making the very best decisions you can.

Toms Mum said...

Hi Hetha
I think gut feeling is so important. When Tom was first deafened I was so stressed and read everything and panicked because I didn't know if we were right doing AV as some other technique said something else. It gets so confusing :( I think I'm a lot calmer now and go with the flow.

Tom loves watching Sing and Sign and tries to copy the signs. I am hoping to do some signing with him. I just need to learn it myself first!!

Karen said...

You said it beautifully in that next-to-last paragraph! :)

Tricia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tricia said...

Against the advice of a total of NINE therapists and doctors, I signed with my daughter, Emmi, after her CI surgery. She received her left CI a year and a half ago, and the right was activated last week. The words that she says spontaneously and clearly (which now are too numerous to count) are the ones she first learned to sign. Now I am not a scientist or doctor, but from my own little experiment, signing helps language development.

Sign away, my friends, sign away!

Tricia said...

Against the advice of a total of NINE therapists and doctors, I signed with my daughter, Emmi, after her CI surgery. She received her left CI a year and a half ago, and the right was activated last week. The words that she says spontaneously and clearly (which now are too numerous to count) are the ones she first learned to sign. Now I am not a scientist or doctor, but from my own little experiment, signing helps language development.

Sign away, my friends, sign away!

Loudest Mom on the Block said...

Hi- I'm new to your blog (came here through Jennifer's, but I'm a mom to 4 HOH kids). Three have CI's, and one of those three just got her bilateral done in July. I found your post regarding ASL and AVT so in line with my thoughts on it all. We too have gone the AVT route w/ all the kids, but as far as I know they have no suggestions for how we communicate at the pool, or while in the water at the ocean, etc. We're lucky that two of the kids are awesome lip readers, but there's no quick way to communicate when CI's and Hearing aids are removed due to water danger. In these instances we go to gesturing, tapping, etc. I think occasional signing has a place.....maybe???

Best of luck w/ the upcoming CI surgery!!! We are so, so happy w/ Emily's results.

Take care,
Melissa